May 15, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive
One decade ago, when Josh Klane was an 18-year-old kid battling for a gold medal as a member of Team USA at the World Junior Ultimate Championships in Heilbronn, Germany, amongst a roster of the sport’s rising stars, here’s how he characterized himself in the brief bio that still exists on the USA Ultimate website: “I have enough speed to receive and be a threat downfield. I’m very reliable and that’s what makes me good as a handler.”
A decade later, as a 28-year-old veteran of five professional seasons with the Minnesota Wind Chill, that self-assessment remains pretty on point, a slightly self-deprecating way of thinking about his style on the field. He knows he’s not a burner with blazing speed and athleticism, but his quickness and savvy usually enable him to get the disc where and when he wants it. And when he’s holding the plastic, he’s most comfortable, with throws that can alternately be steady and explosive. Depending on the mindset on any particular point, he can be the calming possession-oriented pivot, or he can be the ambitious playmaker, boldly launching aggressive hucks with power, distance, and precision.
It’s a recipe that has produced an average of 60 assists per year over the past three seasons. Only Chicago’s Pawel Janas and Seattle’s Mark Burton join Klane in that club, an esteemed trio of handlers who evolved their throwing techniques in different ways to find professional success. If the past couple weeks of conversations with the game’s top distributors has taught us anything, it’s that there’s not just one way to be good at frisbee. Throughout diligent practice, meticulous focus, and tireless self-assessment, there are a variety of styles that can lead to big-time production at the highest levels of the sport.
Like any endeavor, the teammates you surround yourself with can make a huge difference. Look back at that WJUC National team that Klane played on in 2010, alongside guys like Jimmy Mickle, Dylan Freechild, Chris Kocher, Eli Kerns, Simon Montague, Matt Rehder, and Nick Stuart, a who’s who crew of ultimate’s greatest talents 10 years later. Unsurprisingly, that USA Junior Worlds’ Team easily won gold, never once surrendering double digit goals in any of their 10 games en route to a title. It seems clear that Klane has not played with that caliber of superior talent since that particular international experience, though it feels like the 2020 Wind Chill have stocked up their roster to unprecedented levels in the franchise’s history. By adding the aforementioned Rehder, along with pickups like Brett Matzuka and the return of Brian Schoenrock, the Wind Chill find themselves potentially as the favorites in the league’s new Central Division.
While we wait and see whether the season will start and wonder how Minnesota will manage those lofty expectations if it does, I caught up with Klane to see how he’s experiencing the pandemic from his perspective, currently as a nursing student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Of course, I also asked him about his evolution as a thrower, his favorite targets, and his advice for young handlers, for whom he had a distinct message: ‘Don’t try and throw like me.’ The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.
Evan Lepler: Firstly, how are you and what has your life been like over the course of the past month or two?
Josh Klane: I’ve been pretty good overall. I moved to Milwaukee this past fall to start an 18-month accelerated nursing program. We've gone completely online the past few months, and it’s definitely been a tough transition for me. While online nursing classes are not ideal, living alone is really the worst part of all this. I do have some classmates who I've gone on runs with and studied with occasionally, while maintaining six feet of separation of course, but it's definitely been hard for me.
When the lockdowns first began and the AUDL season was postponed, I definitely fell into a lazy routine where I really only focused on school and drinking White Claws. I started to only work out a few times a week and sometimes less. After several weeks of this, I had enough and decided I needed to build a better routine for my physical and mental health. Over the past three or four weeks, I've turned the switch on and have been working out hard five or six days a week. I feel like we can see the light at the end of tunnel finally in regard to the AUDL season happening—definitely not the end of Covid-19—and this has really boosted my motivation to get in the best shape possible. I'm really looking forward to the season, no matter what it ends up looking like, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
EL: For those who aren't aware, can you enlighten me about how Milwaukee and the Twin Cities have been impacted by the current situation? Have you had half-decent weather recently or has the Minnesota winter lingered?
JK: It’s probably no different here in Milwaukee than most other places across the country. I know Minnesota has done a great job of responding to the pandemic. I haven't left my apartment as much obviously, but the bright side of living in a city as small as Milwaukee is that whenever I leave, there's a good chance I'll run into someone wearing an ultimate jersey! Winter really wasn't that bad here in Milwaukee, and we've kind of turned a corner here the past few weeks with a string of days in the 60s and 70s. Of course, it dropped back down to the upper 30s the past few days because that’s how it goes in the Midwest.
EL: From an ultimate standpoint, what types of things have you done to try and stay in shape and keep your throws sharp during these bizarre times?
JK: Before all this, I was in the 2nd or 3rd year of doing GPP [Game Point Performance], but now that I have no access to a gym, I decided to end my membership in order to save some money. I know [GPP Co-Founder] Goose [Helton] would be upset with me, but I've been doing a lot of long distance running this past month. I feel like it helps with my endurance during an AUDL game and it also is a great way for me to clear my head and relieve some stress. I've also been running a lot of hill sprints and slack-lining as well. I started slack-lining a few years back, but haven't really done it since. Once I saw Dalton [Smith] and [Ben] Jagt posting videos of it, I started craving it and immediately bought a new set on Amazon. It's an amazing way to work on balance and core but most importantly, it's a mental challenge that has helped me keep my competitive spirit high. Highly recommend getting a relatively cheap set! In terms of throwing, I only own one disc, so I've really only been doing self-throwing drills—see Rowan's videos—working on disc grip quickness and spin rate. I've using that lone disc to work on my pivoting, specifically the speed in which I can go from forehand to backhand, vice versa, and everything in between. You'd be surprised how much you can benefit from pivoting drills where you don't actually throw the disc at all.
EL: While everyone who steps on an ultimate field needs to throw, catch, and defend, you’re playing style and abilities have certainly labeled you as a thrower. When do you think you first gained that distinction from your teammates and/or opponents on the field and how has that characterization impacted you as a player?
JK: I feel like ever since I started playing ultimate, I've had a natural knack for throwing the disc. Although I've definitely had to work on my game and develop my skills, throwing is something that has always come easy for me. I've never been a pure athlete in this sport, or any other sports for that matter, so I have always been forced to develop skills that help make up for that lack of athleticism. I like to think of myself as Andre Miller; a crafty player who plays at his own pace, really doesn't have much athleticism—just enough—but will occasionally surprise you with a dunk.
I’d say I started to real attention as a thrower in college playing for University of Minnesota Grey Duck, although I think a lot of it was undeserved. A back injury cost me basically two years of college ultimate. While I know Ultiworld always loved to name-drop me in their articles, the truth is that I never became the player I wanted to be on that team. Luckily, every year since, I’ve managed to stay pretty healthy and that has allowed me to continue to develop as a player. I'm definitely my harshest critic and I hold myself to very high standards in regard to throwing execution and decision-making, so although I know I am regarded as a great thrower in the league, I’m never really satisfied. There are always things to work on and develop and I am no different. I’m always trying to step on the field as a better player from the year before, and hopefully that is the case in 2020.
EL: To understand your origins, can you quickly share the story of how and when you began playing ultimate, and along with that, how long into your playing days did it take for you to begin to feel fairly confident as a thrower?
JK: I started playing competitive ultimate officially my freshman year at Hopkins [High School] and quit basketball after my sophomore year to fully focus on frisbee. I had unofficially been playing ultimate since I was in third or fourth grade while spending nine straight summers at a Jewish overnight camp called Herzl. Not only did it shape me into the person I am today, but it also shaped me into the player I am. Ultimate is the main sport there and we would spend every single day throwing the disc around or playing pickup games. In fact, I guess you could say I started playing competitive ultimate at Herzl because we would have these super intense inter-sessional ultimate games that the entire camp would come and watch. It was tradition that the seventh grade group would challenge the eighth grade group, and whoever won would then take on the ninth grade group and so on with the counselors-in-training and counselors. Herzl is where I first began to fall in love with the sport and realized that I was pretty good at it.
EL: Aside from the simple reply, "I practiced a lot," what types of things did you do early in your career to develop your throwing skill? Were there any key coaches or other mentors who helped mold your abilities with the disc, or were there any high-level throwers (on your team or on a top team that you watched) that you viewed as role models and aimed to emulate?
JK: Finding competitive friends who will throw with you whenever and push you to be better is really the key. There’s only so many things you can do by yourself. With that said, some of the most important drills that have developed my game have been ones where I don’t even release the disc. I would find an open space in my house or on grass and just go back forth from backhand to forehand practicing my fakes and pivots. I’d push myself until it burned, and my legs were quivering, switching up the cadence and speed of my pivots and always trying new combinations of fakes. This really helped me progress as a player at the beginning.
As far as mentors, my high school coaches Jake Raisanen and Lou Abramowski were incredibly influential mentors of mine, as well as my best friends and high school teammates Robbie Shapiro, Simon Gottlieb, and Asa Gotlieb. We would watch hours and hours of old UltiVillage club nationals or worlds videos. Each time we watched a video, we would usually see something we liked and then spend the next month practicing it with each other trying to perfect it. Over the course of three to four years, we would just continually add more throws or moves to our arsenal. We were really just good friends who loved nothing more than to play ultimate with each other, and because we were all so competitive, it resulted in all of us excelling in the sport, individually and collectively.
During my nine seasons on [the Minneapolis club team], Sub Zero, I’ve been able to play with some of the best players in the world such as Grant [Lindsley], Simon [Montague], EJ [Eric Johnson], [Jason] Tschida, and Ryan [Osgar], just to name a few. When you compete against those kind of guys day in and day out, you are able to grow so much as a player. I credit all teammates of mine over the years in helping me become the player I am.
EL: Between the backhand, forehand, hammer, and scoober, which do you think is your best throw and which is your favorite throw?
JK: Typically, the high release flick has been my go-to throw, but I’ve been working on my scoober a lot the past few seasons and I think it’s becoming my favorite.
EL: Putting you on the spot--not intending to get the rest of your teammates mad at you, though it may be inevitable--who are your three favorite receivers to throw to, and why?
- Quinn Snider — I throw it up and dude comes down with everything!
- B-Von [Bryan Vohnoutka] — He’s my security blanket and safety valve who I trust more than anyone.
- Ryan Osgar — I mean c’mon, do I even have to elaborate?!
EL: If a younger ultimate player asks you for advice, what's your typical response, aside from the obvious "practice a lot"? Can you share one trick/suggestion about either footwork or grip or release-point or mentality that you've used to be successful, something others aspiring to 'throw like Klane' may be able to learn?
JK: I would tell them to not try to ‘throw like Klane,’ you gotta throw like you and find what works best. There is no perfect or exact way to throw a disc, and that’s evident by how many different throwing styles there are among elite throwers in the game. Everyone has different body mechanics and natural tendencies of what feels “right.” Honestly, throwing a disc is very comparable to batting stances in baseball. There are players with incredibly unorthodox stances who are in the Hall of Fame. I would say that no matter your throwing style, power and torque generated by your base—legs and core—is key to becoming a successful thrower. Oh, and loosen those hips!
EL: Finishing with a couple of life questions, what's the most delicious thing you've cooked during the pandemic?
JK: Last night, I cooked some lemon pepper chicken with potatoes, broccoli, squash, and chickpea pasta topped with vegan mozzarella and it was superb!
EL: And lastly, aside from ultimate, what's something that you haven't been able to do during the quarantine that you're most looking forward to doing again when (if?) life returns back to normal?
JK: Throwing a disc with an actual, live human and enjoying a tall beer in the courtyard at Surly Brewing on a sunny 80-degree day with my friends and teammates.